Venue: The Bob Hope Theatre
Credits: Mike Bartlett
Performance Date: 18/06/2014
Paul Johnson | 19 Jun 2014 11:51am
It’s perhaps somehow fitting that the first word that popped in to my head when deciding how to describe a play called ‘13’ was ‘odd’. Set in a modern, dystopian London, it examines the divide between those with the power to make decisions who are perhaps out of touch with the general mood of the country, and those on the ground floor who are trying to make sense of the perceived mess they feel the country is in. The London riots, student tuition fees and the war in the Middle East are some of the issues writer Mike Bartlett uses to drive his story forward; these were matters very relevant in 2011, when the play was first staged, but it could easily be adapted in the future to use whatever hot topics abound at that time; the underlying themes will inevitably remain the same.
Structurally, 13 resembles the mosaic-style utilised in films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, using a myriad of seemingly disparate characters whose relevance to the piece, and each other, becomes clearer as the play moves towards its endgame. This style of storytelling can be quite confusing and it does take a while for the play to make any real narrative sense but it’s certainly an interesting journey nonetheless.
It’s a bold move for a fairly small, local amateur theatre to take on a play such as this, and the Bob Hope Theatre is to be applauded for its willingness to take a risk and give its creatives, performers and audiences the chance to experience something very different to the usual, safer choices. And extremely well done it was, too. Director Jennifer Sims showed courage, invention and intelligence in pulling together what could easily have been a complete mess in the wrong hands. Peter Basley’s sparse, minimalistic set – consisting of three permanently-positioned screens, with only necessary items of furniture brought on for individual scenes by cast members – worked perfectly, allowing Sims the freedom to keep the action moving in the fluid style essential to the success of the piece; the play moves along at such pace, particularly early on, that attempting any kind of scene changes would be a disaster. The screens themselves worked brilliantly on many levels, variously acting as scenery, props and backdrops, and adding to the Orwellian sense of disorientation and disaffection. The use of this kind of technology in theatre can often feel gimmicky and a bit of a cheat but here it felt integral to the production. Stuart Gain’s lighting was another huge success, creating an unsettling atmosphere from the start.
The use of movement and physical theatre also impressed. The cast fully engaged with Movement Director Zara Rush’s choreography, creating some memorable moments throughout. The all-too-brief company dance to Rihanna’s Only Girl (In The World) was thrilling, I could happily have watched a lot more of that. Another highlight was the scene depicting the London riots towards the play’s climax, with flames burning from the screens, Lethal Bizzle’s grime anthem Pow blearing out and the hoodie-adorned cast hurriedly skulking across the stage. An exciting cameo perfectly highlighting the talents of all those involved in the production.
This is a challenging play for performers but the cast did brilliantly, each of them developing strong, distinctive characters. Very much an ensemble piece, it seems slightly unfair to pick anyone out for special mention but there were particularly engaging performances by Ray Currier, Nicole Magdalena, Kyle Young and Gemma Dand.
Overall, this was a very impressive, always interesting, occasionally exciting evening of theatre, a potential gamble which absolutely paid off. Many congratulations to all involved. This was my first visit to the Bob Hope Theatre but if this is the standard it produces I will certainly be back.
- : admin
- : 18/06/2014